On the second Sunday of Lent, as the Church prepares by prayer, penance and charity for the solemn commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection, a Gospel account of the Transfiguration is proclaimed (see Mt 17:1-9, Mk 9:2-10, Lk 9:28b-36). Even though we are in the midst of a somber season of repentance and self-denial, we find ourselves gazing upon the Lord’s splendor, which he revealed atop Mount Tabor to Peter, James and John, in the presence of Moses and Elijah. As we meditate on this Gospel scene, we begin to share something of the wonder that the apostles experienced as they saw a glimpse of God’s hidden glory and heard the voice of the Father proclaim Jesus as his beloved Son.
FROM DEATH TO GLORY
The preface for the second Sunday of Lent explains why we are presented with such a scene amid a penitential season: “For after he had told the disciples of his coming Death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection.”
Lent should not be viewed as a punishment, but rather as a gift from the Lord, a season when we open our hearts to the ultimate gift of love. The purpose of Lent is not merely to overcome a few bad habits, but to allow ourselves “to be led to that fullness of grace which God the Father bestows upon his sons and daughters” (see Preface I, Lent). By gazing upon “the glory of God shining on the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6), we see that by sharing in the Paschal Mystery, we die to our sins and become capable of reflecting God’s glory in our humanity. Even in this life, we can begin to share in the grace of Christ’s resurrection.
The presence of Moses and Elijah signaled to the Apostles that Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Yet Jesus knew that the way in which this fulfillment would come about namely, through his passion and death would shake the faith of even his closest followers. He also knew that his resurrection would astonish them beyond anything they could imagine.
In his Transfiguration, Jesus made an enduring impression on the minds and hearts of Peter, James and John. John writes in his Gospel: “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father” (Jn 1:14). And Peter writes: “We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from the Father when that unique declaration came to him from majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Pt 1:16-18).
LOVE POURED OUT
Since the Transfiguration played a foundational role in the apostles’ faith and in the entire pattern of Christian life, the Church sets aside a special day, Aug. 6, to celebrate this mystery. By contemplating the glorified humanity of Christ, we sense the tremendousness of our baptismal vocation. The glory that Jesus revealed on Mount Tabor is the glory of the Trinity’s self-giving love poured out upon the world. This same love is lavished upon us in the Word of God and the sacraments. It is the love that we sense in the lives of the saints and in those who strive in God’s grace to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. It enables us to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as God loves us. When our lives are immersed in divine love and shaped by it, we also gleam with some of God’s glory! To paraphrase St. Paul, we glorify God in our bodies (see 1 Cor 6:20).
Blessed Pope John Paul II understood that it is not enough for us to recall the Transfiguration only twice a year. He wrote about it often. For example, he spoke of those who follow the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience as leading “transfigured lives capable of amazing the world” (see Vita Consecrata, 20). Not surprisingly, the Transfiguration is of central importance to the luminous mysteries of the rosary. In his apostolic letter The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, John Paul II called it “the mystery of light par excellence” (21).
Although the Blessed Virgin Mary was not present at the Transfiguration, she helps us contemplate the transfigured face of Christ. After all, no one listened more attentively to the voice of her son did than Mary. No one lived the Beatitudes more completely, fulfilled the vocation to love more fully, or shared more totally in the mystery of the cross and the glory of the Resurrection. Sinless from the moment of her conception and attuned to God’s saving will even amid suffering, Mary led a transfigured life that continues to amaze the world: All generations call her blessed (see Lk 1:48). May the glorious Virgin Mother of God lead us to share in and reflect the glory of God shining on the face of her son!